Warren Gatland’s Wales made the perfect start to their 6 Nations campaign with victory over France, but the Welsh coach is already looking towards the World Cup as he sends a much-changed side to Italy for their second match of the Championship.
The XV that redeemed themselves with that comeback against France last week has been taken apart, with 10 changes to the run on side and more to the bench in a test of depth that was deliberately planned by Warren Gatland. Indeed, the players also spent the week in Nice and moved onto Rome to replicate the World Cup conditions.
Dan Biggar starts at fly-half after coming off the bench in Paris, Josh Navidi takes a whack at covering for Talupe Faletau, Jonah Holmes and Thomas Young get their 6 Nations debuts on the wing and at flanker.
This, along with home advantage, should give the Azzuri hope but the pure and simple fact is that until Simon Berghan’s yellow card, they were trailing by 30 points and they only had an impact when scoring three tries with a man advantage over a team in no danger of losing. Even taking Scotland’s fine home form into account it was a dispiriting performance from a side with talents such as Michele Campagnaro, Angelo Esposito, Tomaso Allen, Sergio Parisse, Sebastian Negri and Luca Ghiraldini.
Wales may have made changes, but their depth has grown tenfold over the past two years and Liam William, Johnathan Davies, Dan Biggar, Aled James, James Ball, and Sampson Lee all start even with the changes – not to mention the strength of the bench with Gareth Anscombe, Hallam Amos, Gareth Davies and Alun Wyn Jones.
Wales should prove too good here, but the points might come after the break. Professional punter Russ Petty has analysed the first and second halves of Wales’ last three trips to Rome; On average the two teams are tied at the half (26-26) whilst the second half is a cumulative 94-10 rout for the visitors.
This is born out by the tale of the tape in those games, when Wales went in 9-6 up in 2013 before winning 26-9, 14-13 at the break in 2015 before winning 61-20, and then 7-3 in 2017 before winning 33-7. Italy have an 8.5 point start in the first 40 and Wales are asked to give up around 10 points in the second half; both look generous.
2 pts Italy +9.5 on 1st Half No Draw Handicap (8/11 Betfair)
4 pts Wales -10.5 on 2nd Half No Draw Handicap (22/25 Unibet, 5/6 Betfair)